Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A once-in-a-century star By Steve Waugh

One of cricket’s most successful captains, he’s been at the receiving end of many memorable Sachin knocks, including a double century in his own farewell Test in Sydney... He says his talkative team members would go quiet when Sachin was at the crease.

Setting a field to a Tendulkar in full flow is a captain’s nightmare. The deafening noise makes it impossible to communicate with the fielders and the bowlers look demoralised. On his day, he can take a game away from the opposition very quickly.

The first time I saw Sachin Tendulkar play, I had all the time in the world to study him and analyse his technique. I had been dropped from the Australian side, and was watching him on television as he was on his way to scoring a remarkable century in Perth. The schoolboy with an unruly mop announced himself as a special talent to the world, on one of the fastest pitches, against a very good pace attack.

The last time I watched Sachin bat was last week, when he was on his way to a spectacular 175, and once again I felt that I was watching a player who comes but once in a century. It can be said that he is the Bradman of our times, and I do feel privileged to have played a lot of cricket against him.

Sachin always brought with him an amazing sporting presence. It was a captain’s nightmare to set a field when he was in full flow. It was akin to getting stuck in a tornado — the noise made it impossible to communicate with the fielders, the bowlers looked demoralised and you could sense that Sachin himself was delighted at the disarray he created in the opposition. Whether in India or elsewhere, there were always enough fans to create a deafening din whenever he was at his best.

On his day, Sachin could take a game away from under your nose very quickly. His uncanny ability to find gaps, his running between the wickets and his sheer presence at the wicket were unsettling for the opposition. Sachin rarely got into verbal duels, and soon we too realised that sledging him only helped strengthen his concentration and resolve. No wonder then that some of the most talkative Australians went quiet when Sachin was in the middle. There have been occasions when he did indulge in some chat himself, but on the whole he was quiet, focussed and seriously tough.

Like many cricketers who were involved in that tournament, my favourite Sachin knock came in Sharjah, in what is now known as the ‘sandstorm innings’. Not only did he singlehandedly get his team into the finals, he then went on to try and win the game from an impossible situation. Allan Border was standin coach for that series, and I remember him saying that that knock was one of the best he had witnessed. He soothed our frayed nerves by adding that the good news was that Sachin had peaked too early and that he would not make a big score in the final.

The final was on Sachin’s birthday, and he scored 140-odd and won the tournament for his team. Those two knocks were gems — works of pure genius.

Sachin has always been a favourite with Australian crowds and has the unreserved respect of Australian cricketers because he possesses many traits that we respect and value among sportsmen. He is fiercely competitive, never backs off from a contest, never gives up, but is always fair. His innate decency has always shone through his ruthlessness on the field. For most of his career, he’s wanted to dominate the bowler and stamp his supremacy on the opposition.

Importantly, he’s always been a team man and he still has a word of advice for everybody, even the pace bowlers. A big reason why his wicket’s so prized is because the opposition knows that his teammates feed off his good form. There’s always that little extra bit of joy when they see his back. We always sensed that once we take him out of the game, his teammates tended to lose some of their spirit. This might not be the case today, but for a decade, getting Sachin early was the key to beating India.

Today, Sachin is at the summit of a monumental career, in terms of runs, years and milestones. However, none of this would have captured the imagination of a billion Indians if it were not for the personality of Sachin. I will not claim to know him well, but in our limited interactions, he comes across as a shy, decent, humble person. He has a small circle of friends and generally keeps to himself. He has always conducted himself exceptionally in public life, which must not be easy. I know that Sachin has learnt to embrace the pressure and expectations that 1.2 billion fans place on him. He seems to thrive on their goodwill, and has rarely mentioned it as a burden. More creditably he has taken the criticism and backlash that follows a poor run of scores with dignity, never letting frustration or doubt creep in.

Sachin’s love for the game is still palpable, his hunger for run remains unquenched, and it’s really up to him to decide when to hang up those gloves.

As a contemporary, I feel that he has fulfilled his destiny as a batsman in ample measure, and if I have any criticism it’s that he did not give his leg breaks any importance. I always thought he could spin the ball a lot more than many regular spinners, and could have claimed a 100 Test sticks if he had put his mind to it.

Two decades of cricket is testimony not only to his talent, but also to the dedication and time he has devoted to his fitness. He is the best judge of how long he can carry on, but I personally feel he does have another two to three years of cricket in him — his fans can rest easy, the run machine still has some fuel left in there!

(Source: Times of India Crest Edition - 14th November 2009)

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